On depression and grace

Another week and a half, another absence from the blog.  No matter how often this happens, I never seem to get used to it.

I know I should be more consistent with this.  For one, I have plenty of things to say.  For another, people seem to like them (or at least read them).  And I know the best way to “build traffic” to a blog is to post something, anything, every day.  So I know these long absences are working against my best interests.

And yet they still occur.  The reason they still occur, while simple to state, is not so simply remedied.  Basically, I find it hard to write when I’m depressed.

I’ve had to deal with mild depression for … well, most of my life.  (The rest of the time, I was dealing with higher levels of depression.)  I’m not on medication.  I can, for the most part, function and live what passes for a normal life.  And I know that there are many people whose depression is far worse than mine has ever been, who literally cannot get out of bed without psychiatric and/or pharmaceutical help.  I don’t mean — EVER — to minimize their situation; I’m just trying to explain mine.

As to why I’ve had to deal with it for so long, well, there are plenty of explanations — both internal (slightly ADD, probable Asperger’s syndrome, who-knows-what-all chemical misappropriations in my system) and external (child of an alcoholic, child of divorce, growing up ADD and probably Aspie when no one had heard of such things).  I’ve had medication prescribed for me in the past, which was singularly ineffective.  (I spent my high school years on what a psychiatrist later told me was the smallest dose of a major tranquilizer he’d ever heard of.  I can laugh about that now.)  Mostly, I’ve just had to soldier through — and I’ve done passably well at that, I think.

Over the last few years, though, the external causes have ramped up a bit.  Except for a three-week temp job in May-June 2009, I haven’t worked since the Great Wall Street Temper Tantrum of 2008.  In August 2009, my son came down with Leigh’s disease and almost died; his recovery continues, but at this point he’s still severely disabled.  My mother died in November 2009, leaving behind no will, no plan for her funeral service, the usual financial stuff to wrap up and an entire apartment that needed to be emptied, sorted and generally disposed of — by me and me alone, for the most part.  My wife’s CMT continues to progress — she’s now officially disabled as well, which has all sorts of effects on marriage and child-rearing.  Her work situation has been uneven (which adds more financial difficulties to the mix) and very stressful in ways I won’t recount because she’d prefer I don’t — suffice to say none of it has been her fault.  Our relationship (estranged) with the brand of American evangelicalism we’ve spent our whole adult lives in didn’t really help.  And then you throw in all the “normal” stressors of school bullies and bad drivers and home repairs and Facebook “friends” who act like anything but, and …

… and yeah, it’s enough to make you depressed, amirite?

Still, I can and have kept going, making sure the necessary things get done.  The kids get to school on time.  Dishes are washed and dinner cooked.  I usually get enough sleep, and when I don’t, I’m not that far off from “enough.”  But writing takes more mental and emotional energy than you might think.  And for much of the last two or three years, that energy has not been consistently there.

I collect quotes that appeal to me, and there’s one that applies here.  F. Scott Fitzgerald once said about his own writing, “I have asked a lot of my emotions – 120 stories.  The price was high … because there was one little drop of something, not blood, not a tear, not my seed, but me more intimately than these in every story, it was the extra I had.”  That “extra” of mine, of any writer’s, is what goes into creating a piece of writing — whether fiction or non-fiction, whether a story, a poem, a letter, or even a blog post.  And when there is simply no “extra” left, when it’s all been used up to just keep trudging through the days … well, then that’s that.  There’s no way to fake it.

My tank of “extra” has been running low for over two years now.  Only recently, it seems, is the level starting to consistently rise.  And what is causing that rise is a greater grasp of the grace of God.

Last year, while my family and I were making an effort to do a home Bible study (an effort that failed, but that’s a topic for another time), I did a six-part series on grace — what is it, why it’s needed, how God shows it to us, how we can show it to each other.  That wasn’t the starting point for me, but it did accelerate things.  More and more, I’m getting a grip on the concept and practice of living in grace — accepting that God loves me and (much more shocking) likes me, as I am, right now, and that no amount of improvement or screwing up on my part will affect how He sees me.  I don’t have to get better for Him to approve of me; He loved me when I was far worse than I am now, and would’ve loved me if I was far worse than that.  I know my explanation is inadequate; I can’t find the right words to convey what’s going on in my heart.  Trust me, though, something’s going on.

The last year or so especially, since I did that study — and at some point, I plan to go back to those notes and see if I can’t translate them into blog entries here — has been like being hooked up to a drip feed, an I.V. of grace that is slowly healing the damage in my soul.  The articles at the Internet Monk website have played a big part in that.  So have friends — real friends — on Facebook.  Books like Robert Farrar Capon’s Between Noon and Three and A.W. Tozer’s classic The Pursuit of God have been useful.  My wife’s (not endless, but certainly huge) patience and forbearance cannot be overestimated; I’ve told her in the past that “you are God’s grace to me”, and it’s still true.  Drip, drip, drip … each drop wearing away at the things that keep me from being loved and from loving, at the drive to push myself beyond what I’m able, at the tendency toward false and unwarranted guilt.

So slowly, I’m getting a little better.  Not “better” as in “cured,” but “better” as in “not needing to be what I’m not or I can’t.”  And as that develops, the depression … well, doesn’t disappear, at least not yet.  But it thins a little — or maybe I just notice it less.  Maybe I’m just finding it easier to focus on better things.  I’m not really sure; like I said, I can’t really find the right words.

But I plan to enjoy it while it happens.  Because I have had to be strong for a long time, just like the graphic at the top says.  But when grace speaks, one of the things it says is, “you don’t have to be.”  You don’t have to carry that burden, grit your teeth through that pain, put on that mask society hands you.  You can rest.  You can be what you are, even if that not what you will be or hope to be or even want to be.  You can drop the load, the expectations, the pretense.  Because God can’t love you any less, or any more than he does right now.  A love that’s infinite and omnipresent isn’t capable of shrinking or moving — it’s always there, and always enough.

So we’ll see what happens next.  There are better days and worse days.  There are times when I still want to run another driver off the road.  But I can feel God’s grace shifting things in me, moving them into a better alignment like a cast forcing foot bones to heal properly.  And the results, I think, will speak for themselves, whenever they come.

Who knows, it might even mean a better blog.  Stay tuned …

One Response to On depression and grace

  1. […] part of the reason was the depression I’ve been pushing through the last couple of months (see my previous post).  But another part of the reason was that it’s been a pretty blah movie awards season.  […]

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